Stephen Schwartz Talks Writing Music for ‘As You Like It’

Stephen Schwartz Talks Writing Music for ‘As You Like It’

Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts will present the William Shakespeare comedy As You Like It from August 8–September 3. The production, directed by Tony and Drama Desk Award-winner John Doyle, will feature new music by the iconic composer and Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz, known for such musicals as Pippin, GodspellWicked and many others. According to Schwartz, this is As You Like It—“the likes of which you’ve never seen before.”

As You Like It tells the story of Rosalind, a woman who travels to the merry Forest of Arden, leaving behind the politics of the city. After disguising herself as a man, she embarks on a journey filled with hijinks, fun, and unexpected love. As You Like It features some of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters, including Rosalind, Touchstone the clown and others. “The whole idea of the show is a group of people who get exiled to the country and how that affects all of them and [John] wanted sophisticated music for them.”

Schwartz, known primarily for his work on musicals, has loved the challenge of writing original music for As You Like It. “It came out of the blue and I’ve never worked with John Doyle before. I think the production is going to be really neat,” he says. The production sets the play in a sort of time-out-of time fantasy with jazz-era stylings, a style that Schwartz hasn’t really worked with before. “It’s very outside of my wheelhouse,” he says. “I’ve done one or two numbers within shows that have jazz within them. It involved listening to a lot of music and playing through music on the piano. It’s always a fun experience to enter new territory.”

As for the songs, Schwartz has almost exclusively stuck to Shakespeare’s text. “There’s less songs than [a traditional musical], obviously, and the lyrics already exist, although we’ve played around with who sings them and made a couple of [small changes]. I tried to stay pretty close to Shakespeare. There are one or two places where I put in a couple cuts,” Schwartz explains. “The
other thing we’ve done which is unusual, and we are still experimenting, is that in As You Like It, there are these verses that get hung on trees and letters from unrequited lovers, so I had the notion to set those to music as well. There will be more music than usual in As You Like It; there are five songs with lyrics.”

Schwartz is thrilled to be working with the talented cast, some of whom will play instruments during the show. “There are fantastic performers. Cass Morgan [who plays Old Adam/Audrey] isn’t that well known, but she’s one of my absolute favorites—spectacular. She helped me to demo the songs. I’ve known her a long time,” he says. The cast includes Tony nominee Bob Stillman and Academy, Emmy and Tony Award-winner Ellen Burstyn.

Even if you’re not a Bard buff, Schwartz thinks you’ll enjoy As You Like It. “Even light Shakespeare can be intimidating,” admits Schwartz, “but I want to reassure people—under the hands of John Doyle and this amazing cast it’s really a lot of fun.”

So, what’s next for Schwartz, who shows no signs of slowing down? Fans of the talented composer can come to Bay Street’s Music Mondays on August 28 for Stephen Schwartz & Friends, featuring Schwartz, Liz Callaway, Scott Coulter and Debbie Gravitte. Schwartz is also working on The Prince of Egypt, which is set to have a world premiere production at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley and the Fredericia Teater in Denmark, directed by Bay Street Artistic Director Scott Schwartz. “We have a great working relationship,” Schwartz says of his son. “He’s done some inventive and beautiful work.”

As You Like It plays from August 8–September 3 at Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor. For tickets and more information, visit baystreet.org and call 631-725-9500.

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